About the Book
This is an age of Science and Technology, of the politics of pelf, power and pragmatism, of high living and plain thinking, of the apotheosis of vice and moral bankruptcy. Such crises in the past wiped out whole civilizations. History is a witness to it.
A nation lives by its art and philosophy. It withers by its arsenals of bombs and missiles “He that take the sword shall perish by it”.
The author, a rare product of the culture of East and West, has taken the sign of the times to heart and spent a whole life- time in the services of art. 1500 classical compositions representing the cream of Carnatic Music, with elaborate authentic notation, covering more than 3000 pages is the most outstanding publication in the past- Thyagaraja period of 150 years, and a tribute to the indomitable zeal, gigantic industry and invulnerable faith and optimism of a lone, solitary figure, the first musician who studied figure, the first musician who studied and published the largest number of the songs of the Trinity and other composer of the 19th century.
And now comes another of the pioneer series- A History of South Indian (Carnatic) Music- in English, a thrilling narrative of its evolution through 2500 years. A digest of all worthwhile literature, of centuries on the subject, it is an authentic reference manual of great value of students of Indian Music and Musicologists all over the world.
The delightfully readable, dignified English is an evidence of the author’s integrated culture and his capacity for clear, effective expression in a foreign tongue.
A large number of pictures in tri-colour and half-tone and useful appendices add to the worth of the book.
This book is a very brief introduction to the study of a subject of great importance to students of music in India as well as outside. Even so, this is the first attempt to present in English a short history of South Indian (Carnatic) Music from Vedic times to the present. I have always been amazed at the vast range, variety and volume of music publications in the west. Why has India nothing comparable to them?
Bharata’s Natya Sastra, Illango’s Silappadikaram and Sarngadeva’s Sangeeta Ratnakara form a triad that contain all that can be said on the subject. But most of the material in the three books remains untapped. Literal translations by scholars innocent of music are no good. Only a scientific mind free from inhibition and prejudice, competent in the theory and practice of Carnatic Music, vocal and instrumental, and well acquainted with the developments in the post- Thyagaraja period of 150 years, can interpret facts of history, correlate them with the present and also point to the future.
This book aims at little more than stimulating interest in the history of our music. It is far from adequate in quality and quantity. But its meager material renders it easy to study and assimilate its contents. It is written in English with an eye on renders outside India. It presents in a homely, Indian setting, a narrative that puts together fragments scattered in classical literature with the warp of poetry and the woof of fantasy, romance and philosophy.
To interpret an ancient system of music in a manner acceptable to current tastes and dispositions is a task that is confronted by brakes and hurdles of all short. The process of sifting grain from chaff has to keep a watchful eye on historical continuity. The nature of the subject precludes the chance of a wide circulation for the book. It is the both an advantage and a disadvantage.
Legend has played no insignificant part in shaping and popularizing the role of music in Indian culture. Nevertheless, I have taken care to keep the legendary element at its minimum. I have also tried my best to make technical matter readable and interesting to the lay sector, though the book is primarily intended as an incentive for further, more advanced study.
Many of the chapter titles are names of books well known in music literature. Their contents provide landmarks in the progress of theory and practice. Though far apart in the time and place of their appearance, they receal the continuous, organic development of Carnatic Music down through centuries. This book, therefore, is an attempt to present the story as a well- knit undivided whole, and not a summary of the various treatises.
Sanskrit words have been transliterated into English for the sake of semantic precision. As there is no agreed plan for such transliteration, an appendix with a glossary has been provided at the end along with other explanatory and illustrative data. Aspects of theory and practice have been coordinated at every step and critically examined in the light of later developments. Otherwise, the past will remain vague and unrelated to the present; the treatment, too, will be lopsided and useless for integrated study.
In the course of writing this book, a stream of misgivings was constantly flowing into my mind. I am quite aware of my total inadequacy for this stupendous work. Yet why did I take it up? What is the need for this book? Can it stimulate the long deferred endeavor to bring out an authentic, well- documented history complete in all respects- factual, statistical, illustrative, critical, etc? The magnitude and urgency of the task being what they are, will it bring together a “Brain Trust” of competent scholars dedicated to its accomplishment? Will this ancient art of unexplored dimensions and immense cultural and spiritual worth shake off its trammels and come into its own as the common heritage of all humanity? Will there be a change in attitudes and a return to old value?
The fusion of Aryan and Dravidian cultures in the South took place before the dawn of the Christian era. It wove music into the life of the community. Today, the peninsular South of India is the only region In the whole world where music is inseparable from life and literature. The evolution of Raga and Kriti, of rhythm and dance, is a fascinating story that has to be pieced together from the profuse literature of ages, particularly in Sanskrit and Tamil. Though clothed in poetry and romance, Silappadikaram is first and foremost a treatise on music. It is absolutely indispensable for a synthetic study of the art.
Personal references may not be quite in accord with conventions common to books of this kind. Till a year ago study of music was but part of my life- long search for truth. The idea of writing this book was the flash of a moment. The decision was too sudden and impulsive for objective planning and impersonal treatment. If it were not so, the last two chapters would have turned out a more palatable fare if only to compensate for the serious reading called for by the previous chapters.
The formative years of my life spent with stalwarts of the Twilight Period of Carnatic Music (1900- 1930) marked for me a non-stop pilgrimage in every sense of the term. To give only one instance, I had gone to Tiruvarur with Konnakal Pakiri who was one of the accompanists for Naina Pillay. The next morning I boarded a train for my home town. I met Semmangudi Narayanaswami Ayyar who was proceeding to Tanjore for a performance that evening. I changed my ticket and accompanied him to Tanjore.
In this manner I filled my life with music. Having drunk deep and glimpsed the vast dimensions that spread before me like a shoreless stretch of water, I entered the thirties feeling like Adam, the first man, who was bewildered by the encircling gloom as he fled hither and thither pursuing the vanishing light of day.
In the four decades since, Carnatic Music has burnt its boalts and got marooned in a trackless desert. The nature of its downfall can be realised only by those like me who were “living then” and are “living now”.
In the face of the present crisis, complacency and indifference are e